ELCA NEWS SERVICE
November 3, 2006
ELCA Presiding Bishop, LWF President Visits Romanian Government Officials
BUCHAREST, Romania (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), met Oct. 30 with top officials of the Romanian government here. Accompanied by two bishops of Romanian Lutheran churches, the church leaders may have achieved one of their objectives -- to form partnerships with the government that could lead to cooperative social projects funded by the state and the churches.
Hanson, accompanied by his wife Ione, is in the midst of an eight-day visit to Hungary and Romania in his role as LWF president. They began their visit Oct. 26 as guests of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary. They traveled here Oct. 30.
The LWF is a global communion of 140 churches in 78 countries, comprising 66 million Lutherans.
Romania is a nation of 21 million citizens from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Most Romanians are Orthodox Christians; about 50,000 are Lutheran. Until 1989 the country was under Communist rule, and today it is continuing to develop as a democratic society.
During his visit to Romania, Hanson was accompanied by the Rev. D. Christoph Klein, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania, Silbiu/Hermannstadt, which primarily serves German-speaking Romanians, and the Rev. Dezso Zoltan Adorjani, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Romania, Cluj/Napoca, made up of mostly Hungarian-speaking Romanians. Klein is an LWF vice president; Adorjani is an advisor to the LWF Council.
They invited Hanson to Romania, asking him to help them work with the government on some specific concerns:
+ urge enactment of a new "Bill of Religions" to update an old law adopted in 1948
+ seek return of church property or restitution for church property seized by the former Communist rule
+ ask the state to address minorities, both national and religious; state and minority churches, and to ask for a draft a minority rights document required by the European Union
+ seek work on a bill of education and the situation of church schools and teaching
+ seek state-church partnerships in education, social, cultural and media activities
A key meeting took place Oct. 30 with Calin Popescu Tariceanu, prime minister of Romania. During the meeting Tariceanu asked Adrian Lemeni, secretary of state for religious affairs, Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs, "to undertake an effort to adopt legislation to enable us to become partners" with the Lutheran churches.
The prime minister also said he wanted the Lutherans to be more involved in education projects, and he said property restitution is an important issue.
"We have to provide restitution for the property despite the fact that sometimes we have problems at the local level. The law supports (restitution)," Tariceanu said. But such an effort requires significant budget dollars, he said. Ingrid Zaarour, president, National Authority for Property Restitutions, was also in the meeting.
In an earlier meeting, Lemeni said he was hopeful the Parliament will adopt a bill on religions by year's end.
"Our main concern is to have this law as soon as possible," said Adorjani.
Restitution of property is more complex, requiring documentation, though some restitution has been made, Lemeni said.
Adorjani said "process problems" at the local level have slowed restitution efforts considerably.
The Lutheran bishops met with Anton Niculescu, secretary of state for foreign relations; Ted Tanoue, chief advisor of the political department, U.S. Embassy, Bucharest; Adrian Iorgulescu, minister of cults and culture; and Bela Marko, vice prime minister.
At a luncheon meeting Marko told the Lutherans, "We are trying to fix mistakes of the Communists against the church, and we have much to correct. We have created a framework for churches to get their property back."
"We want to accelerate adoption of a law concerning churches," Marko continued. "Your attention and your interest in what's going on in Romania honors us."
At the U.S. Embassy Tanoue said Romanians have achieved a great deal economically, including the government's decision to join the European Union effective Jan. 1. The Romanian economy has an annual growth rate of 7 to 8 percent per year, he added.
Bishops pleased with government commitments
The Lutheran bishops held a joint news conference here at the Evangelical Lutheran Church following the meetings with the Romanian officials.
"The Lutheran churches in Romania are ready to be partners with the private sector and with government in expanding schools, hospitals and services to those who live in poverty. We were very pleased that we heard the prime minister making a strong commitment toward making this a greater possibility in Romanian society," Hanson said.
Hanson said he was pleased Romanian government officials said they were concerned about restitution issues too and "would work with us." He said language for a new bill on religions has been agreed upon by Romanian church leaders and was adopted by one of the two houses of Parliament.
"We hope by the end of the year Romania will adopt this new law," he said.
Hanson's visits with government and church leaders here have helped the Lutherans' local visibility and self-confidence, Klein said.
"It's very important because we are a minority church," he said. "Romanian people, also Orthodox people, know very little about this church and are sometimes confused with other small churches. We are a big church in terms of (the) world. We are a big family. We also have a part in the leadership in the family of the LWF.''
Adorjani said he felt the LWF and its president had made a difference for the local Lutheran churches in working with the government. "It was a political signal that first of all Lutheranism is a serious organization, a serious church. A signal was most important to give, and the perception was good, as I saw. The prime minister was very sympathetic and open, and he promised us something to move on. I think it was very important," he said.
"Maybe it was a first step to show, even for the Romanian society, that we are multicultural, and multi-ethnic and multi-religious. We are different. This difference is a constructive part of this country," Adorjani added.
The Hansons traveled by car Oct. 30 to Transylvania in northwestern Romania. The LWF president spent Reformation Day, Oct. 31, with local pastors. He also preached a Reformation sermon at the historic "Black Church" in Brazov, Transylvania.
Photos from Hanson's visit are available at http://www.elca.org/news/photos/0610Hun